EPFL is at the forefront of research in transportation and mobility

© Alain Herzog/EPFL

© Alain Herzog/EPFL

In the five years since its founding, EPFL’s Transportation Center (TRACE) has already begun more than 75 research projects with partners in the public and private sectors. Simone Amorosi, its new deputy director, talks about TRACE’s ambitions.

“The big advantage I have is in joining a properly functioning center, so I can get right down to work. For this, I am very grateful to my predecessor,” said Simone Amorosi right off the bat. He became deputy director of TRACE on 1 May 2015, taking over for Michaël Thémans, the driving force behind the Center since it was founded. In January 2015, Thémans was named deputy to the Vice President for Innovation and Technology Transfer, Adrienne Corboud Fumagalli, a post he has since taken up. The director of TRACE is Professor Michel Bierlaire, head of the Transport and Mobility Laboratory (TRANSP-OR).

In creating the Center in 2009, EPFL positioned itself to play an important role on this issue. TRACE is attached to the Vice Presidency for Innovation and Technology Transfer and serves as an interface between EPFL and the external world. It is meant to be the nexus between academic expertise and the interests of industry. More than 75 projects have been started, and they involve some forty laboratories most of which are part of the School of Engineering or the School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering.

“I started out tightening nuts at CERN”
Transportation and mobility projects harness a wide range of expertise, from mathematical modelling to sociology, without forgetting robotics, information and communication technologies and land-use planning. The new deputy director intends to expand this range as much as possible. Mathematics have a role in transportation, but optics and acoustics do too. Simone wants to find new applications for the laboratories’ work. “Automobile manufacturers are currently working on laser headlights. This is an interesting opportunity for our optics laboratories, which is a field far removed from transportation. Materials departments also have a greater role to play.”

Simone’s openness is a product of his prior career experience. After his initial training in materials, this native of Italy “tightened nuts on the LHC” at CERN as part of his thesis. “I learned a lot from this experience, which got me started in research and helped acquaint me with Switzerland.”

He earned a PhD at EPFL in laser welding and then worked in the fields of optics and solar energy, helping launch two start-ups along the way. His next foray was into the railway sector, where he worked at MATISA, a company that makes rolling stock. He found this to be a “fascinating field” combining tradition and modernity. “The rail sector is one of the keys to the future of transportation, where it has a fundamental role to play.” Looking beyond simplistic and expensive solutions based on further expanding infrastructures, Simone prefers to optimise what currently exists through modelling.

A role in decision making
TRACE’s mission is also to find industrial and public partners to finance research projects. In the same multidisciplinary spirit, Simone seeks an ongoing interaction with companies at several levels. He has in mind both long-term framework contracts and assignments lasting only several months. Railways, automobiles, the sociology of mobility, aeronautics: he clearly aims to branch out into other fields of work and enter into more collaborative arrangements.

Topping things off, the new deputy director feels that TRACE should play a greater role on the advisory boards of major public and private institutions, as is the case already with the Swiss Federal Railways. “It’s an opportunity to provide input and to influence decisions before they are taken. This is particularly important given the fact that decisions in the area of transportation are implemented over the very long term. This will allow us to involve our laboratories and to expand our collaborative undertakings. It’s a virtuous circle.”